Youth homelessness is real and disproportionately impacts foster youth. Shay House, who is a former foster youth from Northern California impacted by the homeless and juvenile justice system, was challenged with the task of getting three individuals’ thoughts on youth homelessness. Shay wanted to ensure she could elicit the perspective of former foster youth themselves as well as the people who frequently interact with them. As a result of the trauma youth endure throughout their time in care they are often paired with a therapist. So Shay asked an LMFT for their perspective on youth homelessness. Similarly, she elicited the opinion of a pediatrician since each youth in care is required to see a physician. Lastly, Shay wanted to include the perspective of a former foster youth because this demographic disproportionately experiences youth homelessness.
The written testimonies from the aforementioned individuals makes it clear that youth homelessness is challenging not only for the youth but also for the professionals who interact with them frequently. Given that youth homelessness brings about as much difficulty as we see below, why is it that we have failed to come together to eradicate youth homelessness? As you read the poem and viewpoints below, please reflect on youth homelessness and think innovatively about how you can rally your community to put a stop to it. The youth of today and tomorrow deserve to have their basic needs met; housing is essential.
Bay Area pediatrician:
The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child endorses the right of youth to enjoy the highest attainable standard of health. This includes access to the underlying determinants of health: safe shelter, nutrition, education, and accessible healthcare. Unfortunately, despite being a nation of vast wealth, many youth in the U.S. are experiencing homelessness — and the pandemic has both highlighted and exacerbated existing disparities. Unstable housing can aggravate many health concerns and make youth vulnerable to exploitation and human trafficking. Adolescence as a developmental phase is challenging enough without the added struggle of needing to meet basic needs without support. Youth homelessness is a consequence of and a reflection of our historic and current societal ills — a legacy of slavery and stolen land, racism, homophobia, transphobia and conflicts that lead to displacement. We need to prioritize preventing homelessness. To optimize the health and wellbeing of youth during the transition to adulthood, we need to partner with them to offer support. Strengths-based, resilience-building, and trauma-informed approaches should inform care and programs offering stable and supportive housing. There are some promising models such as the Tiny House Youth Village in Oakland. Together, we can build a world in which the basic needs of every individual — young and old — are met.
Pepe Santamaría, Former Foster Youth
Every child is beloved, but I was beloved to no one.
child of the world, ward of the court,
Mother Earth the only Mama that nurtured and held me,
Corralled into a system along with my brothers like sheep to the slaughter Set up for incarcerated and dispossessed futures,
I trace my lineage of violence and
To untreated trauma and fragmented psyches
What happens when you tear a people from their land?
When you strip people of their native culture?
Where do we belong when our world has been replaced with senseless greed and violence? Our origins erased, our elders’ names turned unpronounceable on our transplanted tongues, Family trees and community ties
Split by genocide waged as a war on drugs
Policies stealing black and brown children
Families bleeding out in need of healing
Grown children aging out in a system
That set them up to fail
How do we “get right” or find our footing
In the logic-lacking matrix
My mother, Earth, gave everything to us with one condition: CARE
And these systems take EVERYTHING AWAY FROM ME and offer it back to me FOR SALE A safe and comfortable nest is my birthright
It is not a privilege.
Do not punish me for not being born into privilege
When families are working hard
But can’t put food on their plates
This has nothing to do with hard work
And everything to do with a life sentence of enslavement
To systems my ancestors didn’t ask for.
— Pepe Santamaría @_flordenopal
Bay Area Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist
As a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT), and previous Child Welfare Worker with Children’s Protective Services (CPS), I am aware of the several ways that youth homelessness occurs. Unfortunately, youth homelessness can occur as a result of conflicted and unresolved family problems; parental abuse (physical, sexual, emotional); substance abuse of a parent; abandonment by a parent; untreated mental health issues; parental neglect; financial struggles; and aging out of foster care—among other reasons. Although foster care can offer programs such as Independent Living Skills, these services are time-limited and do not necessarily guarantee access to housing.
Within my private practice, I currently work with a large population of teenage youth ages 13 – 18 years. Several are struggling with anxiety, depression and suicidal ideation. Many of their stressors have to deal with family dynamics; their own substance abuse/dependency; peer/social pressures; and academic expectations for their life after high school. An additional stressor for California youth today is how they will financially support themselves once they have left home and are on their own. Although many of the youth I see in my practice are assured financial support by their parents after high school; not all are— especially foster youth and particularly those aging out of the foster care system. Throughout my profession “couch surfing” has been a reality for transition aged youth while they attempt to secure a stable living situation of their own.
In my continued work with teens, I will remain committed to supporting youth as they transition to young adulthood and independence. My hope is to be able to be of service to and/or a resource for any youth at risk of homelessness.